A Very Fine George I Bureau Bookcase Attributed to Peter Miller
A Very Fine George I Bureau Bookcase Attributed to Peter Miller

A Very Fine George I Bureau Bookcase Attributed to Peter Miller

c. 1720 England

Offered by Frank Partridge

£150,000 gbp
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In three parts, the upper section with double domed top and domed sides with a larger gilt urn finial in the
centre flanked by smaller gilt urn finials on the corners, above a pair of arched mirror doors. Opening to an
interior fitted with valenced pigeonholes above a central door opening to a recess and drawers flanked by flatfaced
drawers above curved drawers. The middle section with a richly veneered fall front opening to a central
fitted pull out section with hidden drawers at the rear and flanked by drawers to the sides. Also fitted with
three sliding panels opening to reveal a secret well with hidden drawers concealed at the front. The frieze
with a central arched broken front. The bottom section with moulded waist and two short and one inset
drawer over two long graduated drawers, the sides with conforming carrying handles. Raised on six original
bun feet and retaining its original brass handles and mounts.
At the time of writing Adam Bowett records that there are six pieces of furniture, which
might reasonably be attributed to Miller, this bookcase being one of them. Aside from the
similarities in form, style and metalware, which link them, they also share common quirks
of construction and materials. All are made exclusively of walnut veneer on wainscot oak
of the highest quality. No deal whatsoever is used in their construction, which is unusual
even on the best English pieces of this date. The construction, while ostensibly
conventional, is unusually precise, with an ‘engineered’ quality. The small interior drawers
of the desks all have their sharp edges radiussed or ‘softened’, an unusual and rather
personal touch. Several pieces evince a preoccupation with security and secrecy, not only
in their multitude of secret drawers, but in the unusual locks which are of the highest
technical standard. The locks to at least three of the desk slopes have false covers, which
conceal all fixings, making them virtually impossible to remove. One cabinet has iron
brackets in the upper doors, which engage with the carcase sides to prevent the doors
being forced. Common to all the desks in the group is a moulding of a curious profile,
which flanks each side of the slope.

Known works of Peter Miller identified by Adam Bowett:
1. A signed and dated piece that emerged on the Spanish antiques market about 1982
and bought by Jeremy and sold to a private client. Prior to that it had been in private
hands in Spain since the early 19th century.
2. A desk-and-bookcase in the collection of Bristol City Arts Galleries and Museums, at
Red Lodge, Bristol.
This is so similar in form and style to the signed version as to admit of little doubt of its
authorship. The only significant exterior differences are in the design of the drawer
pulls and the feet, which are straightforward ball feet, rather than the ball-and-bracket
of the signed piece. The layout and construction of the desk interior is identical, even to
the arrangement of the multitude of secret drawers, and it has the same curious
moulding profile either side of the fall. However, two things suggest that this desk-andbookcase
might be slightly earlier in date than the signed one. First, the use of a
standard turned foot rather than the more sophisticated ball-and-bracket of the signed
piece. Second, the drawers in the lower carcase have nailed-up bottoms with added
runners, whereas those on the signed piece have both bottoms and runners rebated into
the sides. The former type of construction is typical of London work between c.1700
and c.1720, whereas the latter only came into general use during the 1720s.
3. A desk that has passed through the English trade at various times, including the stock of
Phillips of Hitchin (1972). It was sold by them to an American collector, and is thought
to be still in his collection.
This desk is identical in form to the lower half of no. 2, and the interior arrangement is
also identical. Details of drawer construction are not known, but the similarity of
metalware and the plain ball feet suggest a similar date to the Red Lodge desk-andbookcase.
As well as these common features the desk has the same distinctive moulding
either side of the fall.
4. The above described piece currently owned by Frank Partridge. This piece has the
same tripartite lower case as nos 1, 2 & 3, but with a simplified desk interior. It has the
distinctive mouldings either side of the slope. The upper case has an arrangement of
drawers and pigeonholes about a central cupboard, which is less complex than on 1 &
2. The shaped arched mirrors are similar to 1 & 2. Metalwork is identical to that on 1,
2 & 3.
5. A cabinet sold by Christies, London, 13 November 1997, lot 160, and now in a private
English collection. This cabinet, although very different in form from the previous
examples, exhibits a number of characteristic Miller attributes. Externally, the first clue
is provided by the design of the carrying handles, which matches that used on the other
three pieces. The profile of the moulding beside the fall is also identical. The interior
drawers of both upper and lower carcase have the same high-quality ring handles as
used on nos 1, 2, 3 & 4. The most compelling similarities, however, are in the interior of
the desk, where the layout of the drawers and pigeonholes is a simplified version of the
Red Lodge piece. The feet are replaced, but were originally ball or bun feet.
6. A desk-and-bookcase, sold Sotheby’s, London.
This desk-and-bookcase is a more conventional article than nos. 1-5. The bookcase has
a double-arched cornice and two glazed doors enclosing a plain, shelved interior with
two drawers in the base. It has, however, the characteristic moulding beside the slope
and a rather curious moulding around the mirrors, which is similar. The shape of the
mirror plates is the same as on no. 4. The interior is identical in layout to the Christie’s
cabinet, except that the pigeonholes have arched tops. The brassware is the same as
those used on all other examples. The lower carcase is conventionally arranged, with
two short and two long drawers below the well. The drawer handles match those found
on other Miller pieces, but the locks are steel rather than brass. This is consistent with
the generally more modest character of the piece.
7. A desk made for Peter the Great in 1717, and now in the Hermitage Museum, St
Petersburg. Adam Bowett has not yet seen this piece, so this attribution remains
tentative. The brassware is identical to other ‘Miller’ pieces, as is the layout of the desk
interior. The proportions of this desk are unusual, but this is explained by the fact that
Peter the Great was unusually tall. According to the authorities at St Petersburg
In addition to these English pieces there are striking stylistic analogies with several
contemporary Dutch desks-and-bookcases. One is in the Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam (illus.
Hayward, World Furniture, fig. 240.) and Bonham’s and Butterfield, San Francisco, 30
October 2006, lot 1543, sold another. While the surface decoration of both these pieces is
very different from the English examples (both being parquetry decorated), the tripartite
form of the lower case is distinctive. In the case of the Bonham’s and Butterfield example,
the pediment design and the placing of the central small mirror in the upper case suggest a
direct link with Miller, either from a common design source or from a common training.
However, it is significant that both these Dutch examples have some technical differences
and very different metal ware from the English Miller group, strongly suggesting they do
not emanate from the same workshop
Height 227.00 cm (89.37 inches)
Width 111.00 cm (43.70 inches)
Depth 63.00 cm (24.80 inches)
Walnut Bureau Bookcase
Frank Partridge

Frank Partridge
5 Frederic Mews

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